Sri Lanka's never-ending post-tsunami disaster

(December 26, Colombo - Lanka Polity) Five years ago, on December 26, world wept with tens of thousands of Sri Lankans as tsunami hit the island taking at least thirty thousand lives with the deadly wave. I lived in an area in the southwestern plains many miles away from the coast and the news of sea waves rushing overland did not rouse my enthusiasm as I had never heard of tsunami although I was entering into the fourth decade of my life.

Herath, a friend of mine came in a motorcycle with worried face since his mother was bound Galle in a train while rumors were spreading that a train had been toppled by sea waves. Later, in the evening, I, my wife Esha, Herath and one more friend went on two motorcycles to Paiyagala where our relations lived and we had no information on their fate since telephones were out of order. Their house was invisible in debris. Nihal, one of our relatives was pulling out a mud-soaked mosquito net from the wreckage. Luckily, none of them were hurt although the van they had just started to go for a wedding was found drifted away for hundreds of meters. Few people died in the villages around Paiyagala. But many of the other coastal villages were not so lucky.

Herath later discovered that his mother had reached her destination safely in the train that left earlier than the ill-fated one. However, he left with his video camera to capture the scenes of the disaster, many of what were later punished in the newspaper that we both were working.

While, I was returning home with my wife late in the evening, a night wedding party was underway close to my village and a band was playing 'baila' as the guests were dancing as if they had not heard the news. They had probably watched the TV but it was an auspicious day for weddings. After all Sri Lankans did not weep as much as the big and small philanthropists in other countries did. Sri Lankans transited to the post-tsunami period so lightly.

Even school kids of some countries sent their savings to Sri Lanka to help rebuild the lives of the victims of tsunami. Non-governmental organizations did all sorts of nonsense from buying sports utility vehicles to manage the post-tsunami operations to publishing thousands of copies of numerous reports that had no effect on the lives of the tsunami victims.

Media began to publish heart rending stories and Baby 81 is the best example of media fiascoes. (Photo above: Abilash's grief-stricken parents in hospital / Photos below: Abilash now and a music album that sold his name)

He was brought to the hospital by a villager who found him and, since he had no identification, was named after his hospital admission number: Baby 81.
After his injured parents got out of another hospital two days later and went to claim him, a media storm erupted, which eventually forced Abhilash's parents to go to the police and courts to get their son back.
They were even arrested when they tried to force their way into the hospital to get their son back and could only bring him home after the father supplied a DNA sample -- six weeks after the tsunami.
Subsequent accounts have pointed out the real story was blown far out of proportion -- there were no other couples trying to claim the child.
A TV crew filmed Baby 81 and the rushes were seen by a wire agency reporter. Whether it was a mistake in translation or some other kind of misunderstanding is unknown, but a report then ran that "nine desperate heartbroken women" were all claiming the child as their own.
But for Abhilash's father, Muruhappillai Jeyaraj, the unrelenting media hullabaloo over a vast misunderstanding has been a personal experience almost worse than the tsunami itseslf.
"I wish we all would have died in the tsunami," he told Reuters, holding Abhilash, 5, in his lap. "I would not have to tell this story again and again. Nobody will believe that there is no change in our lives."
Abhilash and his family were flown to the United States for a 13-day trip with an interview on NBC's Good Morning America not long after the tsunami. They were never paid for the appearance, Jeyaraj insists.
An American alternative rock band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club called their 2007 album Baby 81 and sold 14,000 copies in its first week.
What should have brought in help, only brought harm, said Jeyaraj, a barber by profession.
"Abhilash has become a dole for all the media, just to get his picture or visual and give publicity. But that publicity has been useless for him or us," Jeyaraj said.
People assumed he was getting rich off the publicity and began hounding him. He could not get local aid because charities believed he had been paid for the trip to New York. He moved the family from their village in Kalmunai to the city of Batticaloa, on Sri Lanka's east coast. (Reuter)

Politicians were also in the receiving end of the benefits in the post-tsunami period. Their associates, some are even not the victims of the tsunami disaster have received two, three houses and they have rented them now. Many actual victims of the disaster still live in half-built houses while thousands of people still languish in refugee camps in Colombo district. Any traveling along the Galle Road can see such camp in a state building in Blind and Deaf School Junction, Rathmalana in the city outskirts. A dirty two-story building that is near collapse stands shabbily with cloth lines everywhere and people gushing out of it like ants.

In 2005,the Criminal Investigation Department sought permission from the courts to investigate the accounts alleging that there was a breach of trust concerning nearly 83 million Sri Lankan rupees (approx 820,000 US dollars).Sri Lankan media had alleged that money sent by international donors to the Prime Minister's national relief fund was credited to the privately run "Helping Hambantota" fund. The lawyers of the Prime Minister told the Supreme Court that the Cabinet of Ministers were informed of the monies in ‘Helping Hambantota’ fund, which is monitored by Secretary to the PM, Lalith Weeratunga.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Sarath Silva (see photo) ordered Criminal Investigation Department to temporarily halt the investigation after considering a petition by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse.

The Prime Minister then is the President now and the Secretary to the PM is the Secretary to the President now. Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva retired and some of his court rulings have been challenged legally.

Even the populist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and the People's Liberation Front (JVP) misappropriated the funds raised in the name of the tsunami disaster. Nobody knows what happened to the monies they collected world wide and island wide. Many of those from international donors to local businessmen who lavishly delivered promises to help the victims now remain silent after getting publicity for their philanthropic ideas that did not materialize.


  1. Missing of Tsunami funds is a big question and who ever is resposible should be brought before justice .But wether proper investigations willbe done is another big problem since those who are suppoosed ta do all these are dead silent.It is funny to hear that these people(speciallly the government ) is talking big and asking people to vote them for to carry out their development plan eventhough there are so many unsolved problems of this sort.


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